April 2012-RS Belgium & Netherlands, Part 5

Part 5 Guided Walks: Pack a thermos or water bottle & a snack for the longer city guide walks. Walking stops are for WC breaks & not enough time to buy a drink or snack If you enjoy taking photos plan to return later in the day to take them. Guides don't linger for this purpose. Cities: Try to get off the main roads to see the local shops and hidden holes in the walls for meals. Internet and Wi-fi is faster and efficient in cafes and hotspots versus the hotels. Walking: Watch where you're walking! Cobblestones are uneven, may be loose, & slippery when wet. Pedestrians don't have the right of the way. Watch out for bicyclists, scooters, motor bikes. Walk only when the light shows Walk and consider your self warned. Fiets! Come Prepared: Physically come prepare to handle your own luggage. Physically be able to walk & stand for long periods, along with climbing stairs for a total of 3 - 4 hours. You need to enjoy the entire day.
Read materials sent by ETBD to familiarize yourself with the itinerary & what you'll be doing on the tour. Research things to understand what may be of interest for you during the free time periods. Clothing: Spring bring a sweater, a rain jacket, mini-umbrella, gloves-scarf-hat. A light fleece or vest was a popular item worn. If you own waterproof shoes bring them. Even if you plan by checking weather before you leave, it changes too often. Plan your wardrobe to work in different types of weather & temperatures by layering your clothes. Luggage: Enough can't be said on being able to pack light so you are able to handle your bag. This tour involves long walks from the bus lots to the hotels or vice versa. Men are always gentleman. But you shouldn't depend on others. Leave the cannolis & take the umbrella, Tots Ziens!

Posted by Paula
Toronto, ON, Canada
38 posts

Hi Diane, Absolutely brilliant trip report, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am glad that you had such a wonderful time. Paula :-)

Posted by Betty
Missouri City
201 posts

Sorry, but for the $$$ Rick's tours cost, you'd think they could use the audio devices that allow you to hear what the guides are saying!! My husband and I would never be able to take a RS tour because we can't lug around our own suitcases and we can't stand and/or walk continuously for 3-4 hrs at a time. There are tours where they actually take care of your luggage and provide the equipment necessary to hear about the places you are seeing. Really, there are!

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

Betty, There are numerous tour companies and they all offer something unique. I understand your points and why a RS tour doesn't fit your travel style. The cost of the RS tour is held by handling your own luggage to and from your lodging room. The bus driver loads and unloads them off the bus. They also are local people who participate in the group dinners providing the traveler a more in depth cultural experience. I enjoy the smaller group sizes, the guide's interactions with the travelers, and the guide teaching the people how to have an independent travel experience separate from the one you'd received on a tour. The one fact which I feel needs addressing is the city walking tours and the usage of a hearing device for those who need it. I understand what you are saying that other tour companies provide such devices. Could you share a tour company you have experienced at the same cost as this RS tour ($3195.00) which provides a traveler the same geography, arts & history, local topics and culture covered? Diane

Posted by Betty
Missouri City
201 posts

Diane, we recently completed a Gate 1 river cruise/tour consisting of 3 nights pre-cruise in Prague, a 7 night Danube River Cruise, and 2 nights post-cruise hotel in Budapest. The entire cost of this trip was under $6,000 for both of us including airport transfers, an optional all day tour of Cesky Krumlov and a Hungarian folklore dinner. In each city (Prague, Nurnberg, Regensburg, Melk, Vienna and Budapest) we had a local guide who provided us with a comprehensive tour using the audio devices I mentioned earlier. While there were 120 passengers total on our cruise, Gate 1 provided 3 buses, each with it's own tour guide at every port. In Prague and Budapest, we stayed in 5* hotels within a few minutes walk of the Old Town. Both of the hotels were historically significant and not a Hilton or Holiday Inn clone. We don't normally stay in 5* accommodations because we usually travel independently, but on this tour everything was first class. I certainly don't have a problem with people taking RS tours, but they aren't for everyone and I do feel they are pricey for what you get. I think you pay a premium for the Rick Steves name. Just my opinion.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3577 posts

A RS land tour and a river cruise are apples and oranges. If traveling with luggage is a hardship, a river cruise would be the better option. The price and length of those two tours are extremely similar. As desparate as I am to take a European river cruise (someday...), I'd rather spend my time on land 24/7; that gives me so many more options. But someday...;-) Betty, I don't know if you're still around, but how do your tours get away from 3-4 hour tours? I've never had the priviledge of a 1- or 2-hour tour. Are there that many coffee/beer breaks, do you return to the bus and drive to the next sight in town, or...? Diane, did NONE of your tours use those fancy-schmancy audio headsets? RS' tours use them, so I wonder why yours didn't. I wonder how effective even those would be against heavy traffic noise, though... Tomato, tomahto - as long as everyone's happy! Thanks for the trip report!

Posted by Betty
Missouri City
201 posts

On our city tours, the buses were used to transport us to the different outlying sights. Once we got to the old town, the bus would drop us off and we would then walk around with the guide. There was always free time before we'd board the bus to return to the hotel or boat and we always had a W/C break.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

Eileen, If anyone is using a RS audio device, it is the Apps they downloaded on their own to use on their own time. RS provides them for free. I used one for London and one for St.Stephen's Cathedral in Prague. The guided portions are done by a local lead guide who is using their personal voice to convey their message. This is where the city noise seems to be a hinderance for some travelers. There is always a WC break and normally time for a coffee break,too, within the stretch of the 4 hours or more. I enjoy both independent & small group travel experiences which mix the variables of middle and budget stay lodgings, meals, and methods to enjoy the places where I travel. Happy travels!

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

If an individual has trouble hearing the guide at any time during a city walk or whatever, instead of complaining about it afterward when no one can do anything about it, the person should speak to the guide during the tour and explain their need. The guide will then accommodate that need in the best way possible. On my last tour we made a little game of always making sure a particular tour member was within good earshot when the guide was speaking. We had a few good-humored laughs over it and it was fun for everyone, including the person it affected.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3577 posts

Diane, I was referring to those amplification devices where the guide speaks - quietly - into a mic, and the others wear a headset. Anytime I can't hear a tour guide they get an earful of 'What? What? We can't hear you!'...When 15-20 people are saying this, over and over, it eventually works ;-) Betty, I was curious about the length of your city tours, because I know someone who might really benefit from this company. Most tours I've taken we're at least 3-4 of walking and standing, so if Gate 1 does shorter tours (1-2 hours, then free time the rest of the day), that might work for them.

Posted by Betty
Missouri City
201 posts

Eileen, we usually left the boat around 8:30 or 9:00 am and were back onboard before lunch around Noon or 12:30. A couple of the city tours were all walking because the boat docks close to the old town. My husband and I both have issues that make walking/standing a problem but we managed OK, especially when we had free time to sit and have a hot chocolate or coffee for a few minutes.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

Eileen, I know of the devices you describe but didn't understand that's what you were referring to earlier. Rose,
On a tour if I can not hear I will change where I'm standing or sitting. If I still can't hear I alert the local guide or RS guide when it's occurring. Of course some people for whatever reasons don't speak up on the matter. The RS Guide will not know about this until the tour review is done by the traveler. This is unfortunate as the RS guides encourage the group to share concerns along the way.